Who was that guy leading Dega who looked like Michael Waltrip?

Jay Busbee

Of all the many strange and terrifying sights at Talladega this past weekend, perhaps none was more chilling than the sight of Robby Gordon and Michael Waltrip freight-training through the pack en route to the lead. And lead Waltrip did, for three laps — more than Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart, by the way.

Waltrip is in the all-but-retired stage, but still dusts off the ol' firesuit for big races, particularly restrictor-plate ones. This year, Waltrip has run four races — the Daytona 500, the Bristol spring race, and both Talladegas — and failed to qualify for Michigan and Sonoma.

"If the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series raced every weekend at Talladega and Daytona I’d still be driving full-time," he said before the race. "That’s how much I like those tracks and restrictor-plate racing." It's a nice idea, but if the series raced at Talladega and Daytona every weekend, it's a fair bet that we wouldn't have 43 cars to finish the summer, much less the season.

Waltrip is a clownish presence off the track but also a sponsor's dream; it's not hard to see why people want to throw money his way. The guy is the real-life embodiment of Ricky Bobby's sponsored blessing. And while his days in the front of the field are pretty much done, as long as he's not hurting himself or others — and, yes, that's a big "as long as" — he ought to keep doing victory laps.